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Whenever you are preparing a child on the autism spectrum regardless of how impacted he or she is, it is a process and it can be difficult. That is because you have to prepare the child through visuals such as using social stories while worrying about how the child will react due to changes in the routine and sensory issues. Examples are taking the child to the dentist or to the doctor, and it also applies when you are taking the autistic child for a haircut.
Whether or not the child is profoundly affected by autism or mildly affected, it can become an ordeal when they are getting their haircut. It usually is due to the result of the child experiencing sensory overload while getting the haircut.
The lights at the salon are bright, and the way the child’s head is handled during the cutting session can be sensory triggers. However, there are solutions to these problems when it comes to cutting an autistic child’s hair. Listed below are 7 steps on how to prepare a child with autism for a haircut.
1. Find A Salon That Has Experience With Cutting The Hair Of A Child With Autism
You can contact your local autism support community to get references for salons that are experienced with cutting the hair of children with autism. Salon managers that are familiar with autism are the only ones you will want to use for when you take your child for a haircut. They will know how to handle difficult situations that crop up during a session.
2. Talk To The Manager Of The Salon And Arrange A Day To Take Your Child To Visit
It is a known fact that children with autism need to know what will happen ahead of time if there are any changes in their schedules and routines. This is why the best thing to do is after speaking to the salon manager about your child, go and arrange a time for the child to visit the salon. This way, he or she can see the environment where his or her hair will be cut. Additionally, you can take the opportunity to tell the salon manager about any particular sensitivities that your child has so he or she is prepared ahead of time of what to expect and what to avoid if possible.
This may mean the stylish will need to dim the lights while cutting your child’s hair or may have to forgo the hairdryer which can be a huge sensory trigger. This means the child will have to stay longer on a cold day at the salon for the hair to dry naturally unless a wash and shampoo will not be part of the process. It will all depend on what your child can handle.
3. Schedule The Hair Cut Appointment At A Quiet Time
The last thing you will want to do is schedule the appointment of your child’s haircut at a busy time as that can cause a sensory overload which can be followed by a meltdown. You will want to find out which hours are quiet at the salon and schedule the appointment to fall into that timeframe. This way, if there are very few disturbances in the environment, then the child will have a good chance of staying relatively calm.
4. You Will Want To Focus On Rewards For The Child For Completing Each Step
It is important to have reinforcers for the child collected before the haircut session begins. If small new toys are rewards that the child likes and responds well to, then be sure to get several small toys such as small cars or small dolls. If there are certain treats such as potato chips that your child likes, then get a bag of your child’s favorite potato chips. Each time a step is completed, give your child a chip.
For instance, if your child sat still on the salon chair, the child will earn the reinforcer for sitting still and not squirming. This will encourage your child to keep sitting still. And if the next step such as the stylist cutting a section of the hair is completed successfully, then the next reinforcer can be given as a reward for that – and so on.
You will also want to take a picture of the reward so that the child can be reminded of what he or she can earn if she completes all of the steps successfully. And that is fully cooperating while getting the haircut.
5. Use Visuals To Prepare The Child
Anytime a big change will happen to the child with autism which will be a change in their routine because they are getting a haircut, they need to have visuals to help them understand what is happening. This means to use social stories of getting a haircut for the child or taking pictures of actual steps of what is expected in a haircut.
For instance, it is possible that the salon manager can arrange something with a client who will understand autism and have pictures taken of the client or their child getting a haircut. This can be a good visual sequence tool for the child to see what to expect.
6. Help The Child Become Desensitized At Home
The child’s head will be touched by the stylist during the haircutting session. This means that you will want to implement sensory integration therapy tactics by touching the child’s head gently so that it is not a shock to your child when the stylist is having to do that during the haircut session.
You can also take scissors and cut a small amount of your child’s hair as well so again, your child is not surprised when the stylist is doing that. The bottom line is that you need to know what kind of sensitivities that your child can easily encounter and utilize tactics to help with desensitization.
7. Keep The Child Feeling Secure As Much As Possible During The Haircut Session
If your child has a favorite toy or object, allow him or her to bring it and to hold it during the haircut session. If a compression undershirt keeps the child calm, then make sure that the child wears it before going to the salon. Utilize the things that keep the child feeling secure which will reduce the chances of a meltdown during the session.
Taking a child with autism for a haircut can be a daunting task for the parent or caregiver, and the child. However, by utilizing these steps, the stress that is associated with the haircut can be reduced significantly. It is all about how well you prepare your child as well as the salon manager ahead of time which you will want to do as much as you can.